The Shellal Mosaic looted?
17 August 2011
Emeritus Professor Ben Boer comments on whether the removal of an antiquity could be a crime under international law.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Emeritus Professor Boer examines claims that a Byzantine mosaic created during the reign of Emperor Justinian was removed by Australian troops from the ruins of a church near Gaza and that the troops knew they were plundering.
''In a general sense [the soldiers] could be said to have violated the laws and customs of war,''he asserts.
However,Australia did not appear to be bound by these laws in April 1917, he adds.
He says international law did not require the Australian government to return the Shellal Mosaic to its rightful owner.
The question of whether Australia should return the Shellal Mosaic is an ethical, not legal, one, he argues.
''Should Australia return the mosaic in recognition of its importance to the cultural heritage of people of the region?
"However, it seems unlikely at this point that there would be a demand for its return."
He suggests if there was such a request, then there could be a moral case for returning it, but it may be impossible to return the item intact because it now forms part of a supporting wall.
Contact: Greg Sherington
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